Best DNA Test Kits: Which One is Right for You?

How to Choose the DNA Testing Kit That’s Best for You
Marc McDermott

If you’ve read all the DNA test reviews, and are still confused, read on. This guide will give you the answers you need for those and many more questions. But first, here’s a quick comparison of the top DNA testing kits:

Comparison of important features

AncestryDNA MyHeritage FamilyTree DNA 23andMe LivingDNA
Website Ancestry.com MyHeritage.com FamilyTreeDNA.com 23andMe.com LivingDNA.com
Best for Genealogy, matches, ethnicity regions Global matches, tools for advanced genetic genealogy Distant ancestry, YDNA, mtDNA Genetic health testing British Isles ancestry
Price See latest price
See latest price
See latest price
See latest price
See latest price
Ethnicity results Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Ethnic Regions 500+ 42 24 1,000+ 80 (in depth for UK)
Family Matching Yes Yes Yes Yes Limited
Database Size 15 million 3.8 million 1 million 10 million None
Y-DNA Test No No Yes Broad haplogroup, no matching Broad haplogroup, no matching
mtDNA Test No No Yes Broad haplogroup, no matching Broad haplogroup, no matching
Collection Method Saliva Cheek swab Cheek swab Saliva Cheek swab
Chromosome Browser No Yes Yes Yes No
Raw Data Upload No Yes Yes No Yes
Health Info No For extra fee No For extra fee No

Best DNA testing kits reviewed

AncestryDNA

The best testing kit for genealogy, AncestryDNA has the most extensive database (15 million customers) so you’ll find the most DNA matches there.

Ancestry DNA test kit

What we like:

  • Database of over 15 million customers for matching
  • Strong genealogical community
  • Connect with matches through anonymous email and message boards
  • Link your DNA results to your online family tree
  • No subscription required

What we don’t like

  • Viewing family trees of your matches requires a subscription
  • Does not allow raw data uploads from other sites

Read our complete AncestryDNA review.

Note that you do not have to have an Ancestry subscription in order to take their test or see your results. You also do not need a subscription to build your own family tree.

A subscription allows you to view genealogical records, view the family tree’s of your matches, and compare your tree with your match to find common ancestors.

There are of course many other features on the research side of your genealogy. Get a 14-day free trial here.

MyHeritage DNA

The best DNA testing kit if you’re looking for matches outside the United States, MyHeritage has the largest database of international customers. They also offer some pretty neat tools such as auto clustering and a chromosome browser.

MyHeritage test kit

What we like:

  • Largest database of international customers to be matched with
  • Link your DNA results to your online family tree
  • Allows free upload of raw data from other sites
  • Covers 42 ethnic regions

What we don’t like

  • Relatively small (but rapidly growing) database compared to other sites. Currently 3.8 million

Read our complete MyHeritageDNA review.

23andMe

23andMe is the best test kit for dedicated genetic testing for health. Since most people who test there aren’t as interested in family history or communicating with DNA matches as compared to sites like Ancestry, 23andMe would probably not be my first choice for genealogy.

23 and me DNA test kit

What we like:

  • The best company for health and wellness reports
  • Has a large database of more than 10 million customers
  • Includes a chromosome browser for comparing results

What we don’t like

  • Very limited genealogical community compared to other sites
  • No Y-DNA or mtDNA matching
  • Does not allow upload of raw data from other sites

Read our complete 23andMe review.

You may also be interested in our complete comparison of 23andMe vs Ancestry.

FamilyTreeDNA

The best for distant ancestry (beyond 6-8 generations), and paternity testing. One major perk is, even if you do get your testing done by a different company, FamilyTreeDNA lets you upload your raw data into their system as well.

FamilyTreeDNA

What we like:

  • Only company to offer all three tests separately
  • Only company to offer Y-DNA and mtDNA matching
  • Cheek swab DNA collection (much easier for babies and elderly)
  • Allows free upload of raw data from tests run for other sites
  • Has a chromosome browser, which lets you compare two or more sets of DNA results to see segment overlap
  • Surname, haplogroup and other group projects you can join

What we don’t like

  • Has a smaller database of people than sites like Ancestry (since it’s not as popular to the mass market), so you might miss some matches
  • Very broad ethnicity regions

Read our complete FamilyTreeDNA review.

Living DNA

If you have any British or Irish ancestry, you’ll definitely want to do an ancestry test with LivingDNA. Based in the UK, LivingDNA specializes in “high definition” genetic testing in the British Isles and can narrow into the exact regions of your ancestry in the British Isles.

Because of the lack of a customer database (and matches), I would also test with another company in addition to LivingDNA.

LivingDNA

What we like:

  • Divides the UK and Ireland into many more, smaller regions than other services

What we don’t like

  • No separate autosomal DNA only test, so highest overall price
  • Almost no database for matches

Read our complete LivingDNA review.

DNA testing buyer’s guide

In this guide:

Types of DNA tests

There are three main types of DNA tests used in genealogy.

Each one works a little differently, and tells you different things.

Naturally, that means that each one has its advantages and disadvantages.

Autosomal DNA tests (atDNA)

autosomal DNA inheritance chart
Autosomal DNA tests are the most popular and look at the DNA you inherited from every line in your family tree. This test provides an estimate of your ethnicity – or the regions of the world where your ancestors lived within the past few hundred years. This test also matches you with distant relatives.

Autosomal DNA (atDNA) is that DNA that does not contribute to gender; in other words, the first 22 pairs of chromosomes. It is inherited from both your maternal and paternal ancestors.

Because it does not rely on the 23rd chromosome, atDNA tests can be done in both men and women with the same results.

What is an atDNA test?

atDNA tests are by far the most popular for consumers. This is the test that gives you ethnicity estimates as well as family matches.

This test examines single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), or the different “shapes” of individual nucleotides, small chunks of DNA.

Genealogical atDNA tests examine about 700,000 SNPs to determine how closely related you are to someone else.

Remember that half our DNA comes from our father and half from our mother.

Going back in generations, that means that roughly one-fourth of our DNA comes from each of our grandparents, one-eighth from each of our great-grandparents, and so on. These percentages are never exact since DNA inheritance and recombination is completely random.

The further you go back, the less DNA you have inherited from a particular ancestor, and the harder it is to prove that you are related.

So autosomal DNA tests are only useful for about 6-8 generations.

What It Tells You

Most people who do an autosomal test do so for ethnicity estimates. Autosomal tests will give you a set of ethnicity results based on how your DNA compares to reference populations created by the testing company.

For genealogical purposes, the main use of autosomal DNA testing is to find relatives and determine how closely related you are to someone else.

This can be especially useful if you know very little about your parents or grandparents and are having a hard time locating living relatives.

Many times, relatives located by the test are researching the same family lines as you, and you can share research with them.

Every company mentioned in this guide offers autosomal DNA tests. Again, it is by far the most popular test for consumers.

Mitochondrial DNA testing (mtDNA)

mitochondrial dna inheritance
Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) is passed down from a mother to all her children (both male and female) and examines your direct maternal line only. Like Y-DNA, mtDNA changes very slowly over time so you can trace maternal lines back thousands of years. This test should not be confused with X-DNA analysis.

mtDNA is genetic material inside mitochondria, small components found inside every cell and which have their own separate DNA strands.

mtDNA is passed down exclusively from females. Both males and females inherit their mtDNA from their mothers, therefore anyone can take this test.

Because mtDNA does not include a combination of DNA from both parents, it does not change with every generation.

In fact, mtDNA changes extremely slowly – it might remain exactly the same for dozens of generations!

How It Works

While autosomal DNA testing looks at the 22 pairs of autosomes inside the cell nucleus, mtDNA testing looks at the DNA inside the mitochondria which exists outside the cell nucleus.

Among other things, that means the test only has to examine about 16,500 genetic base pairs, instead of the 3.2 billion base pairs found in our DNA.

The test normally looks at only specific portions of the mtDNA and compares them to established samples.

What It Tells You

mtDNA gives very precise and accurate ancestry results, but only for the maternal line.

results, but only for the maternal line.

That is, it tells you about your mother’s mother’s mother’s mother, and so on, back through time.

But it can’t tell you about any of your other ancestors, such as your mother’s father or any of your father’s ancestors.

An mtDNA test will also identify how closely related you are to a haplogroup.

A haplogroup is basically a group of people with a single common ancestor.

Historically, everyone living in the same region might belong to the same haplogroup, or very closely related ones.

This means that your haplogroup can identify where your maternal line originated.

It could also help you locate distant relatives, but some of them could be very distant (thousands of years).

In some cases, mtDNA can remain nearly identical for 50 generations or more. This makes it difficult to use mtDNA matching for genealogical purposes. A perfect match means you are related, but you might be 48th cousins!

The only company to offer individual mtDNA kits is FamilyTreeDNALiving DNA  and 23andMe bundle very basic mtDNA testing with their autosomal DNA test.

Y-DNA tests

Y-DNA inheritance
Y-DNA Tests look at the Y-chromosome (only found in males) which is passed from father to son and changes very little over time. This allows you to trace the direct line back thousands of years. Females don’t have a Y-chromosome so they cannot take this test. However, they can ask a male relative (i.e. brother, father, uncle, etc.) to take the test for them.

The 23rd human chromosome has two versions, the X and the Y.

Women have two X-chromosomes, while men have one X and one Y.

Y-DNA testing kits examine only the Y-chromosome, therefore only males can take this test. If you’re a woman who wants to test your father’s Y-DNA male line, you’ll need to test your father, uncle, brother, male cousin, etc. Basically any male on your direct paternal line. Testing the oldest generation possible is always best.

Because you can only get a Y-chromosome from your father, and he from his father, that means it tends to change very little over time.

How It Works

There are actually two sub-tests with Y-DNA testing.

The first is a short tandem repeat (STR) test. The STR test categorizes sections of the DNA according to how often a certain genetic pattern repeats.

The second is a single-nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) test. It works the same way as in autosomal DNA testing, but it only tests about 30,000 SNPs instead of 700,000.

What It Tells You

The STR test produces a summary of your haplotype. This can be compared to someone else’s results to determine how far back your most recent common ancestor might have lived.

An STR test is often used to determine how closely two people with the same surname are related, if at all.

The SNP test is more detailed, and among other things assigns you to a haplogroup.

A haplogroup is a group of people with one common ancestor and who lived in one or more specific regions.

Both Y-chromosome tests can help you locate relatives.

But like mtDNA, because the Y-chromosome changes slowly, you might be related many generations back. Although Y-DNA tests are much more useful for genealogy than mtDNA.

And because the Y-chromosome is only passed down through males, the test can only tell you about your direct paternal line.

The only company to offer individual Y-DNA testing kits is FamilyTreeDNA, which has three options depending on how detailed a test you want.

Y-DNA testing is especially useful for adoptees. It’s also a great ancestry test if you think you have jewish ancestry.

Living DNA and 23andMe bundles very basic Y-DNA testing with their autosomal DNA tests, but provide much less detailed results than FamilyTreeDNA.

Choosing the test that’s best for you

With three tests to choose from, how do you decide which is best for you?

It all depends on what you want to know.

Autosomal DNA

For most people, the autosomal DNA test is the clear winner, and it is the one test that every testing company offers.

Because your autosomal DNA comes from all of your ancestors, this test is good for finding a range of ancestors and living relatives.

It can also provide you with reasonable estimates of the ethnicity of your ancestors, or the regions of the world where they lived.

The main drawback to autosomal DNA is that it gets so jumbled together after a few generations that it becomes unreliable the further you try to go back.

Most of the time, an autosomal DNA test is only useful for about 6-8 generations.

Autosomal DNA can provide some great leads on finding others who are researching the same family tree as you.

mtDNA

Because mtDNA comes to you only from your mother, and from her mother, it only helps you trace one line.

You can use it to prove a common ancestor with someone else, but only in a direct maternal line.

It can, however, trace that line back a very long way – sometimes 10,000 years or more.

That can provide evidence that your mother’s maternal line came from a very specific region or ethnicity.

But it is less useful when finding living relatives.

Y-DNA

The Y-DNA test is sort of like the mtDNA test, but it follows a direct paternal line instead.

That means a Y-DNA test can tell you about your father’s father’s father’s father, and many generations before that, but not about any of your other ancestors.

Y-DNA is most useful if you want to prove a connection to a certain ancestor.

Say that you have a common surname, like Smith, and want to know if you are related to someone else named Smith.

A Y-DNA can prove (or disprove) that the two of you are related.

Like the mtDNA test, Y-DNA may let you trace a line back for dozens of generations.

It can also tell you the ethnicity or region of origin of your paternal line.

One major drawback to a Y-DNA test is that only males have Y-DNA, so only males can take the test.

However, a woman can still find Y-DNA results by having a close male relative take it for her, such as her brother, father, paternal uncle, or cousin by a paternal uncle (but not her son, since he got his Y-chromosome from his paternal line, not hers).

In the same way, you can trace other paternal lines by asking an appropriate family member to take the test and share the results with you.

Ethnicity testing

All three of the DNA tests can provide you with information on where your ancestors lived.

But the information they provide varies from test to test.

  • Y-DNA and mtDNA tests will link you to very specific genetic lines, but keep in mind, they represent only a fraction of your family tree.
  • Autosomal DNA testing is what’s used for ethnicity testing of your entire family tree.

The companies that provide DNA testing divide the world up into regions in different ways. Each company has different ways of doing this.

That means that two different testing companies may give you different ethnicity estimates for the exact same DNA.

As more and more genetic data is collected, companies update their regions, too.

Some companies have had problems with their ethnicity estimates in the past. AncestryDNA, for example, used to be well-known for overestimating Scandinavian ancestry.

But the accuracy of estimates is constantly improving as more genetic data are collected, and there’s no clear indication that one company is more accurate than the others.

When a company does improve its ethnicity estimates, your profile will automatically be updated, too. You won’t have to retake the test to get the new results, but you will have to visit their site. Chances are they will not email you with the update.

Regions versus countries

It’s important to keep in mind that any DNA test will typically give a region of origin, not a country.

That’s because countries have changed many times throughout human history, and even within your lifetime!

Consider the case of Alsace-Lorraine, a 5,600 square mile region on the border of France and Germany.

Before the 17th century, the area was entirely Germanic (even though Germany as a country didn’t exist at the time).

During the 17th and 18th centuries, it was annexed by France.

In 1871, following the Franco-Prussian War, it was annexed by Germany.

Following World War I, it was returned to France.

So how can you say if your ancestors from that area were German or French using only DNA?

You can’t.

You can only say that your ancestors came from that region.

And because of all the migration and intermarrying across borders, the results you get aren’t going to be that specific, anyway.

Chances are they’ll bundle Germany and France together, and simply tell you those ancestors came from continental western Europe.

Native American ancestry

​Can DNA testing determine Native American ancestry?

Many people in the United States want to know if they have any Native American ancestry, and if so, from what tribes.

The good news is DNA testing can, in some cases, tell you if you have Native American ancestors.

Read our full guide to testing for Native American ancestry.

Which test is best for you?

It depends on your goals…

Is it worth it?

So is genealogical DNA testing right for you?

In the end, is it really worth the cost and bother?

Absolutely.

Even if genealogy is only an occasional hobby for you, these tests can provide you with some very enlightening insights into your family history.

And for the serious genealogist, it is getting to the point where they are nearly essential.

Genealogical DNA testing is finally accurate enough, inexpensive enough, and useful enough for connecting with your family. I recommend it to everyone interested in learning more about their roots.

External references & citations

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FELICIA TAYLOR

Hi. My name is Felicia. I am 53. I want to start looking for my mother. I feel that I am ready. My parents were married in Seoul, Korea in 1963. He is American. She is Korean. They moved to Los Angeles, CA, and I was born in 1965. They separated and divorced in about 1968. He got custody of me (rare for a man at that time), and he moved us to NJ. He passed away when I was 27, and I have their marriage certificate, so I know her parent’s names and the village they are from. I… Read more »

Sports Performance

I would like to learn more about my genetics but have no interest in connecting with “long lost” family members. I also don’t want my personal info plastered about for privacy reasons. Which service(s) offer the best for what I am looking for that will also respect my need for privacy?

Michael J Hayde

Hi. There doesn’t seem to be a way to search comments, so I apologize if this has been brought up. Every so often, I get ads from Genealogy Bank for the GPS ORIGINS DNA Test, which claims to “pinpoint your ancestry even to the town or city.” Have you had a chance to rate this product against the others? If so, how does it measure up?

Camille Devaux

It makes sense that you would want to find a good service for your ancestry charts. This is a great way to make sure that you are getting the right results. I like the idea that you can find a service that will narrow the searches and will search for something like that.

Audrey

I’ve a taken a DNA test with the main purpose of tracing my father’s lineage but then I read that cos I’m female it is not possible. I don’t have any living male relatives on my father’s side. Does this mean my results are only from my mother’s lineage?

Steve

One factor I would like to see in the review is the time taken to receive your results. I have been waiting 22 weeks for results from livingdna. Is this typical? I’ve emailed them and just been given a stock answer.

S. Alpa

Hey, I don’t know my dad, all I know is he’s probably Indian, from Kashmir, my grandmother passed away and I have her ashes (I never knew her either) I would like to know where my grandmother / father is from so I can take her back to scatter her ashes where she belongs..
My mum can also take a DNA so we can separate what’s her and what’s me but which test would show me where in India please?

col main

Hi Mark, can you tell me which test my mother in law would need to take, for me to find genealogical information on her paternal line? She never knew who her birth father was apart from the fact that he was an American serviceman stationed in England after WW1. She has no siblings. Is there a test suited for this? As she is nearing 100 years old, it would need to be a cheek swab test. Would it be beneficial to have my husband tested instead? Thanks.

Connie

I’ve been reading the Q&A portion and didn’t find you suggesting 23&me. My father used 23&me and I want to purchase. Kit for my daughter’s bday…. should I stick with the same company?

Also, is it only 23&me that offers the health testing? How accurate has it been?
Cheers
Connie

Connie

Awesome info! Much appreciated

Alberto F. Trevino

I had my test taken by National Geographic years ago when they initially started. Do you know if they have updated the tests or technology, science etc.

Yeni

Hi
I was born in flight from the Middle East to the USA back in 2008, and the little I know is that my mom’s family were either Jew or Muslim.

Which test would be best to separate all types of Jew branches and Muslim branches???

Seeing that I am fair olive skin tone, I am very sure that my mom’s family was more than just one or the other.

Karen

Thank you for your reviews
I’ve been looking at CRI Geneticsfor family tree but especially for health reasons …I notice you did not even mention them…. is there a reason for that?

MaryBeth

I also am interested in CRI Genetics; anyone used them?

arien

I used them, and while I did not use it for health reasons, I found their test a little more believable concerning ethnicity than Ancestry. Crigenetic said I had no Korean and am Japanese with European (white) ancestry, and Ancestry stated I did have Korean and no Japanese or European, but I was born with red hair and am constantly mistaken for Japanese. I don’t know how to feel about the results.

Nathan

Hi,
So you probably have answered this already and I have no idea. I’m just trying to dumb it down for myself. Really great info not overloaded with the information. I’m trying to do a ancestor tree. I have the names all the way back to 1900 on my dads and moms direct line. I was wandering what test would be best to take to find out more exact answers on bloodline and names in my family all the way back to 1700-2000?

Elaine Abrams

Hi Mark, Thank you for such an informative and clearly stated article. I am American Jewish and have done several of the tests. I’m now submitting a question for a close friend. He is Burmese and would very much like to test. His biggest interest is ancestral origins. Would he be best off doing a Ydna test or could he find sufficient information in an autosomal test? I assume the Y test would be with Familytree. If so, should he also do an autosomal test with Familytree, or with Ancestry or MyHeritage? Thank you so much!

Erin

I know that this article is old, but I have been interested in my ethnicity. I have a good idea of what ethnicity I am, but I like many people want a thorough DNA test. Now, it seems like Ancestry is the closest to what I am looking for. The only issue that I have with ALL of these DNA tests is privacy. I don’t like that they have the authority to keep my information for their own purpose. This is the reason why I won’t take any of these DNA tests, and as curious as I am, I want… Read more »

Sheri Belasco

Want to know which test would be best for confirming relation to a new sibling without parent test available

Hank Johnston

For the uninformed, this is the best discussion on the subject of DNA that I have ever seen. I have been trying to determine who my great great grandfather is for years. I’ve tested with Ancestry and Family Tree DNA, hired ProGenealogists with Ancestry (twice), and still can’t determine who he is. I truly don’t know where to go now. The genealogist that consults with Finding your Roots works for a company that doesn’t do individual research. Who else does the genetic genealogist research that they do?

Bobmierow

If you want to take a dna test to use on the GEDmatch site; is one company’s test better than the others?

Sam R Hobson

I want a dna test that will link me with others regardless of their last name who have the same dna . Also would be interesting to see the ethnicity and origin of my dna profile. Have no idea how that works. Which test has the most comprehensive information and largest database of others seeking the same thing i am ?